Interview & Report

Tommy Ton

Tommy Ton

Blogger & Photographer / "JAK & JIL"

Tommy Ton is from Toronto, Canada. He launched "JAK & JIL" after working as a salesperson and a buyer, etc. Currently contributes to Style.comand In the spring of 2012, he collaborated with the Canadian brand “CLUB MONACO” on a collection of handbags.

The fashion blog “JAK & JIL” is enormously popular for its natural snapshots of fashionistas on streets and fashion shows around the world. Tommy Ton, who operates this globally-influential blog and contributes to several fashion media, visited Japan at the invitation of JETRO during the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week TOKYO 2013 S/S period. What did this street photographer/popular fashion blogger, who is based in Toronto and travels around the world, think of the streets and fashion of Tokyo?

How many times have you been to Japan?

This is my third time. I also came to Tokyo this May, and that visit inspired me a lot as well. The food is delicious, and I like Japan very much. During this visit, I’ve been going to visit shops in places such as Shibuya, Harajuku, Ebisu, and Shinjuku during the time between shows. Actually, about 20 to 30 percent of my wardrobe consists of Japanese brands such as PHENOMENON, FACETASM, SASQUATCHfabrix., and visvim, etc. Since my visit to Tokyo in May, I’ve been very interested in Japanese men’s fashion. There are many clothes with a good balance between price and quality, and I believe that spending my money here is good for Japan right now, so from now on, I’d like to come at least twice a year and stock up on all the clothes for the season (laughs).

Tommy Ton

Appeared at the event “Tweed Run Tokyo 2012” which was held on the last day of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week TOKYO 2013 S/S. A photo in front of the Mercedes-Benz mountain bike at the tea party.

How did you feel when it was decided that you would visit Japan at the invitation of JETRO?

Apparently, Poggy of United Arrows (Motofumi “Poggy” Kogi) highly recommended me, and I am very grateful for that. When I first received the e-mail, it was only about five days after I had finished a shoot in Paris, but I immediately answered that I would go to Japan.

You frequently upload photos that you took in Tokyo using Instagram, etc.

I upload scenes from the fashion week shows and pictures of clothes that I purchased on my visit to Japan in almost real-time. I hope that this can be a source of inspiration for the people abroad. I take almost all my photos using a single-lens reflex camera, and I always carry a camera around, but it’s a bit too heavy and makes my neck hurt (laughs). It’s fun to be able to upload my photos into the iPad straight away and then upload them onto Instagram, etc.

I’m sure you’ve seen many shows in Japan. What is your impression?

There are many shows that are very interesting to watch. In other countries, most shows seem to be somewhat familiar, but the choreographing is so unique in Japanese shows. I think this is because Japanese designers don’t just want to show their clothes, but are also strongly aware of expressing the show’s world view. Also, people of all ages come to see the shows. It really struck me how everyone watches the shows with such serious expressions, no matter what kind of show it was. For instance, the momonakia show for the Mercedes-Benz connection was clearly humorous, and I was a bit curious as to why everyone watching it looked so serious (laughs). Japanese people are polite and probably don’t show their emotions much in public.

Do you have any requests for the fashion week in Tokyo?

It seemed that my schedule was full at night, so it would be better for me if the shows were more interspersed throughout the day. I often take snapshots outside the show venue, but at night, it is dark outside and difficult to take pictures. My style is to take chase fashionable people before and after the shows and take pictures of them without asking, but it’s difficult to do at night.

Why do you take photos in the style that you do?

When I first started my blog, I used to call out to the people I was taking photos of. But many people were shy and refused to have their photos taken, and above all, I myself am shy and I’m not very good at talking to people (laughs). Also, if I tell people that I’m taking photos of them, they would pose, and I’m not very fond of that. If you think about it, when you take pictures of a lion in the savannah, you don’t tell them “hey, can you stay still for a bit?” In the same way, my style is to take photos in as natural a way as possible, like in a documentary. I feel like taking photos without being noticed allows you to see the more natural side of a person.

Why did you decide to start a blog in the first place?

I always liked fashion, and often went to the collection venues. But I couldn’t enter because I didn’t have an invitation, so I started to take pictures of many different people outside the venue in order to convey the atmosphere outside the venue as though it was “another runway”. The photos started accumulating, and I decided to start a blog in order to share these pictures with other people like me who couldn’t go to the shows because they didn’t have invitations.

Did you used to study photography?

I never studied it professionally at school. But I think what’s important when taking photos is not your technique, but your perspective. Being knowledgeable about the camera functions doesn’t mean that anyone can take photos like mine… I can only say this now, but until five years ago, I took all my photos using the camera’s auto-function (laughs). What’s important is to have a broad perspective and to take pictures that incorporate various elements. I want to continue taking good pictures, and I always approach my work with the desire of showing these pictures to everyone.

You take street shots around the world; what do you think about the fashion style of Japanese people?

There are a lot of people in Japan that I want to follow everywhere and take pictures of. Japanese people don’t discriminate against others just because their sense of fashion is different from their own. In fact, I think there is the sense that it is better to be different. When I go to cities such as New York, Paris, or London, people often judge or discriminate against others based on their clothes, but in Japan, it is okay to wear anything you want, and I think that is fantastic. If all other countries recognized the freedom to dress how you want like in Japan, I think the world would become a happier place. The trend of judging a person by his or her appearance is what is ultimately making people shy.

Street shots are very interesting since it gives you a glimpse into the unique culture of that country.

That’s true. Sometimes what may seem normal for the people of one culture may appear to be completely different for the people of another. In that sense, I want to make the pictures I took on this visit to Japan available to fashion-conscious people abroad through social media and my diary on “STYLE.COM“.

In addition to your own blog, you also contribute to social media and other media. How do you distinguish between them?

For instance, I use Instagram as a tool to let people know about my daily adventures, so I mainly upload personal photos such as what I buy or eat every day. On “STYLE.COM,” I mainly post pictures of the people that come to the fashion shows. On Tumblr, I post more of a mix of different things, and on my blog JAK & JIL, I upload snapshots of people in motion and looking natural, so I use different media for different purposes.

Lastly, are there any projects that you want to try your hand at in the future?

I used to want to be a designer, and I worked on a handbag collection with CLUB MONACO. The collection completely sold out, and people have been encouraging me to try my hand at designing, so I would like to open an online store for men’s fashion one day. I’d like to return to Tokyo for inspiration and do lots of research in order to develop an image for my collection.

INTERVIEW by Yuki Harada

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